I remember the first time I met Greg Bonifield back in 2007. He was confident and charming, and for some reason, the following thought popped into my head: “This man was a cowboy in a former life.” There was just something in Greg’s swagger that made me think he would be just as comfortable lassoing steer as he is adept at roping deals. But it’s not the 1800s; it’s 2011. And in the aftermath of the Great Recession, on the cusp of a fledgling recovery, Greg is still hunting for gold in the Wild, Wild West. Just replace West with East. And give him a Southern drawl. Greg is a partner at Woodfield Investments, a company that was born in the midst of the boom when his former employer, Summit Properties, was acquired by Houston-based REIT Camden Property Trust. Greg decided to launch his company with the goal of building a focused, local operation around his base in the Washington, D.C., metro. His business plan had him breaking ground on and delivering properties at the height of the recession.

In the years since the downturn, Greg has been joined by a slew of additional entrepreneurial ventures with a similar local market–centric focus. Among them are more start-up spin-offs, including Jefferson Apartment Group, launched by former JPI exec Jim Butz, and Insight Property Group, a venture that brought former Kettler executive Richard Hausler out of retirement.

These three men are smart and capable. They understand their business, and they are fiercely protective of the market knowledge and experience they offer to investors and equity partners. They are also incredibly jovial, with an easygoing nature that belies their hungry real estate appetites. I found this out during the shoot we staged for the cover in downtown D.C. on a street that, a few years ago, was run down with uninhabitable single-family homes and abandoned industrial lots and today is a vibrant, walkable street boasting modern multifamily mid-rises in every nook.

It was in this setting, where new has replaced old, that we captured the personalities and promise that these three executives offer. Jim and Greg ribbed Richard about having modeled professionally before: He was just too calm and steely as his blue eyes stared down the lens (maybe he was a matador in a past life). Greg and Jim jockeyed for most casual poser—I think Jim came out a notch ahead.

But ultimately, what came across is the passion that these three men, with more than 40 years of industry experience combined, bring to their young spin-off companies. And it’s that passion that leads me to believe it will be companies like theirs—and similar new ventures—that will stand out in the new economy.